Sometimes, life just decides to smack us upside the head. Often, the cause of this is other human beings, be it collectively or individually. Some of us may resort to cynicism after such an event, and we might end up with a rather negative view of our species. I found that the best way to combat this irrational urge is to look at history.
Did you know that, in the early 60s, the administration of the arguably most powerful country in the world… decided that it was a good idea to release 480 million needles into Earth’s orbit?
It’s called Project West Ford. The project consisted of three missions. Its actual purpose was to put almost half a billion tiny copper dipole antennas, pictured below. Why? Well, for war purposes, of course. It was the most paranoid, tense period in the history of mankind, after all. This was before communications satellites were put into place, so the copper dipole antennas were meant to act as an artificial ionosphere - a dispersed artificial ring of needles circling the Earth, that the US military could use to bounce signals off of it.
Not something you’d want to be hit by at double digits Mach. Though I’m not sure you’d want anything to hit you that fast.
The idea probably sounds ridiculous to you, especially if you consider the ever-increasing problem of space debris. Unsurprisingly, scientists all over the world thought this idea was ludicrous, and there was quite a bit of backlash. Even the Soviet newspaper “Pravda” joined the protests, publishing the headline “U.S.A. Dirties Space”.
The technology was, eventually, scrapped in favour of the much cleaner, much more effective, and much cleaner communication satellites that we employ today. And, proving that something good can come out of any disaster, the Project West Ford was the reason why the “consultation clause” in the Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was implemented. The consultation clause reads:
"A State Party to the Treaty which has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by another State Party in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment."
The needles were meant to deorbit due to sunlight pressure, but as of 2008, there were still several clumps of needles circling the Earth. So the next time you look up, think about that. How the consequences of reckless decisions made by paranoid leaders over half a decade ago, still remain.